The calls for a referendum on EU membership have been so widespread that even mainstream politicians have been left with little alternative but to take note and make requisite adjustments. Dave, spooked by the europhobic wing of the Tories and the spectre of UKIP eating into their core vote, is now (apparently) committed to a referendum by no later than 2017, before which he intends to make at least some attempt to repatriate decision-making powers from Brussels. Both of the other main parties, which remain publicly pro-EU (the Tory leadership is privately so, but likes to pretend otherwise) favour a referendum ‘in principle’, whatever that means.
Anyone thinking this is a done deal, pretty much nailed-on to happen, is sorely deluded. If you follow the common sense approach of always reading the small print, then you’ll see that Dave’s condition for a referendum is that of a Tory majority post the 2015 election. The fact that the Conservative Party is, was and remains, one of the most hated institutions in Britain, a ‘contaminated brand’ if I’ve ever seen one, means that even the prospect of leaving the EU will mean nothing to the millions who would not consider voting Tory in this lifetime or the next. If you look at the way the cards were stacked in their favour in 2010, and the fact that they still didn’t win, then this wider problem of perception becomes clear.
And does anybody seriously believe that the paid up, openly EU-fanatical Labour Party and LIbDems would give people the option of leaving if they had any sort of stake in the next government? They can support the idea ‘in principle’ all they want while it’s not imminent, but I’ll be tempted to believe it when I see it in writing. In the case of the LibDems, even a front page pledge is no guarantee whatsoever that they actually mean it, as the events of the last three years have demonstrated.
Ok, suppose I’ve got this horribly wrong and Dave wins in 2015 – what next? Well, he still has a card left to play, that of re-negotiating the terms of engagement between the Uk (possibly minus Scotland at this point) and the European Union. Chances are that, given his own determination to stay in and that of other European leaders to keep the Uk at the table, he’ll get something to work with, which can be grossly exaggerated as living, breathing evidence that the EU has ‘changed direction’, away from centralisation of power, and the corruption that saw independent auditors refuse to sign off their accounts for 17 (yes, SEVENTEEN) consecutive years.
You can already guess how the referendum would be played out – anyone favouring withdrawal from the EU would be dismissed as a Little Englander, racist or xenophobe. Politicians would be wheeled in from the continent to spread scare stories about job losses, that Britain would just not be taken seriously anymore outside the European Union. Personally, I think the prospect of isolation and irrelevance is fantastic if it means fewer interventions in disputes overseas that are none of our business. But then its undeniable that many still cling to a romantic notion of Britain as a world power, fuelled by patriotism and a conflation of the distant past with the present.
In a referendum under these circumstances, I honestly believe the vote would be to stay in, which would kick the question into the long grass for another generation.
However, there’s another way of looking at this. If opinion polls are to be believed then withdrawal from the EU is favoured by a majority of circa 2:1 amongst the British public. Would a major political party promising ‘no referendum – just leave’ be likely to either win an election or at least force the others into a similar position? I’m almost certain it would. The only problem arises in the event of stated scepticism towards the EU being utterly phoney, since this is a much more concrete promise than a vague one of a referendum, easier for people to take at face value or at least hold to account, and future electoral suicide if ultimately broken.
That Dave would not dare countenence this speaks volumes. He is, was and remains a passionate supporter of the European Union and the Conservative Party is a dud, a fraud playing at scepticism and wasting people’s time, that needs to be exposed. I wonder sometimes if their leadership would rather lose the next election than take the gamble of a referendum, risk getting the ‘wrong’ result and be backed into an inescapable corner. I’m no fan of referenda in general terms, seeing them as a sign of weakness, lack of vision and an appeal to the mob, but if one were to rapidly accelerate the death of the useless Tories then that would be no bad thing.
Talk about the law of unintended consequences – take it easy.